There’s a running joke with the England cricket team, that every time there’s a batting failure, it’s one of the bowlers that get replaced. With the test series in the West Indies already a done deal in favour of the hosts, Mark Wood – a right handed fast bowler – was called into the playing eleven and responded with a thrilling five-wicket haul in the third test in St. Lucia. From that performance alone, one could be forgiven for assuming that he was a regular in the England team for test matches. And yet, he has been anything but.
For a long time, Mark Wood was always picked in the team for what he was capable of doing in the future – never for what was on his resume until then. He made his ODI debut for England against Ireland in 2015 and later in the same month, made his test debut against New Zealand. He would also go on to win the Ashes in his first full season in international cricket. As a bowler he was consistently able to hit the 90-mph mark and seemed to be the perfect foil for the more technically challenging Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson.
It was indeed, him being fast-tracked into the England setup that proved to be a little too much for Wood. He suffered injuries – he has undergone three ankle surgeries so far – due to the wear and tear of international cricket. His performances also suffered from a lack of aggression while on the international circuit. He had, for example, never taken more than three wickets in one inning prior to his spell in St. Lucia. When he met with Trevor Bayliss earlier, that was one of the things that he was told to correct. Bayliss asked him to be more of an ‘Aussie mongrel’ in addition to giving him pointers on his style of bowling.
He also never was able to develop his technique and find his rhythm while facing the best batsmen from each country – and only partly due to interruptions from injury. It is also something that has affected him in the past. One of the main reasons his spell in St. Lucia turned out the way it did was Wood adjusting his run-up. By lengthening his run-up, he was able to put less stress on his foot than previously and he was able to gain more control of his line and length. He also worked on other aspects of his bowling during the England Lions’ winter tour in the United Arab Emirates – all of which contributed to his strong performances during the last few months, culminating in the destruction of the Windies middle order in St. Lucia.
It’s been a good return for him to the test side and it seems to have been timed perfectly. With the World Cup at home looming large this year and with the Ashes following immediately after, Wood now finds himself in a position that a lot of cricketers would love to be in if they had to endure years on the sidelines with injury and average performances. England’s bowling attack looks stacked and according to Wood himself, there is competition between four people – Wood, Tom Curran, David Willy and Jofra Archer – for one spot on the team.
After quite some time on the sidelines, it feels like Mark Wood finally has emerged as the bowler England had hoped he would one day become when they picked him to make his test debut against New Zealand. Whether he can keep this up is certainly up for debate but he finally has managed to make a legitimate case for himself to be a regular in the England side.